BOOK BEAT Naples Sun Times June 20-26, 2007
by Philip K. Jason
Is there a more perfect name for a poet than Solo? What name better fits the solitary author of lyric and narrative poems? Perhaps Dr. Leonard E. Solo had no real choice in the avocation that has occupied him since he was an undergraduate at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. Through his graduate work at the University of Massachusetts, through post-graduate studies at Harvard, and through his long years as a teacher, administrator, and consultant, Len Solo was also a poet. For this wintertime Naples resident (Massachusetts is otherwise home), the name’s the thing.
In the late 1960s, when Solo was teaching high school, he struck up a relationship with one of his students, Steve Weitzman (known as “Mud”). They wrote some poems together and critiqued one another’s work. They kept in touch, and in the early 1990s considered publishing a book together. Nothing came of it, and they lost contact.
By 2001, as Solo started writing more regularly, he came back to the idea of publishing a collection that combined Mud’s poems and his own. But now he could not find Mud, and their favored title, “The Spirit of the Seasons” (capturing the seasonal organization of the collection), was already taken. By 2003, Solo had added more poems and made structural changes. The collection was brought out by PublishAmerica in 2004 as “Landscape of the Misty Eye,” Solo trusting that his vanished friend, whom he listed as co-author, would not object. Solo found Mud last year, and the former student was “pleasantly astounded to see the book, which he likes a great deal.”
In another year, Solo found that he had written enough poems for a solo (no pun intended) collection. “Rooted in Place” (2006, also from PublishAmerica) is organized into three sections, each focused on one of the three main places that he has lived. One of these sections grows out of his experiences of six winters in Naples. There is also a temporal arrangement, moving from poems of youth to those of maturity and old age.
As a poet, Solo values directness and accessibility and shuns the academic. In plain language, he strives to surprise and delight his readers. He has mastered the conventions of traditional poetry and uses them when he needs to, but his work is best characterized as free verse.
Solo and his wife, Deanna, have a condo near the intersection of Route 41 and Rattlesnake Hammock. “Why Naples?” he writes, in answer to my question. “We have friends who got there first; we have an absolutely beautiful spot (small condo, friendly people, nice garden and pool in front, grass and trees in the back with a canal, birds, etc.). The weather is great and I’ve come to hate New England winters.” He also enjoys being near the ocean, the multitude of good restaurants, the art shows, the Thursdays on Third music festivals, and the seafood and music at Stan’s Idle Hour restaurant in Goodland. Solo also values the flatness of the Florida terrain, which makes it easy to walk and bike.
Solo says that he takes his cue as a writer from something Hemingway had expressed about trying to capture the sequence of motion and fact and in doing so creating the emotion. This busy poet has finished about forty new poems since “Rooted in Place” came out. I’m guessing that it won’t be long before he puts together another book.
Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of English from the United States Naval Academy. A poet, critic, and free-lance writer with twenty books to his credit, this “Dr. Phil” chairs the annual Naples Writers’ Conference presented by the Naples Press Club.